Apr 15

Understanding Photography Field Guide by Bryan Peterson ★★★★★

This is a great little book that I mostly skim-read. Peterson writes well, and covers a plethora of subjects in the small soft bound book. There are several things that make this book a good read. First, the book is loaded with little gems to make your photography easier and better. It is not a comprehensive manual on how to take special types of shots, but simply offers the best advice for just about any circumstance, whether it be macro photography, night photography, people pictures, etc., etc. The second thing I really appreciated with the book is how Peterson would often show a very bland shot, and then show the same shot taken with a few tweaks that turn the scene into a phenomenal photograph. He tells you exactly what he does, giving all the camera setting information for you to know the precise conditions of the photo. It is a fun read, not the best book for a photography novice, but a very helpful read for a middle of the road photographer.

 

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Apr 15

The Emerald Forest ★

This movie is supposedly based on a true story and is presented by various eco-environmental groups as a moving and compelling argument to save the rain forests. Because of its high reviews on Amazon.com, I decided it demanded a re-watch, having seen it many years ago. The story is quite simple. A young engineer in charge of building a dam in the Amazon basin is out with his family near the construction site, when the young (about 7 year old) son is taken captive by a tribe which was isolated from civilization. This boy grows up in that tribe and becomes a leader. Ten years later, the father eventually finds his son, but is caught in the cross-fire of inter-tribal warfare. The raiding tribe has made contact with civilization and has procured machine guns, and thus have hauled off the young ladies of the tribe to be prostitutes. Meanwhile, son  weds a young tribal lady, only to find her as a captive of the warring tribe. Using his now alienated father for assistance, the girls are rescued and son decides to stay primitive rather than go back to his roots. Upset with the dam that father has built, son calls on the frogs to make it rain, and a heavy rain coupled with new sympathies of father, father dynamites the dam and the progress of man is halted.

While this movie is reportedly based on a true story, it is quite clear that much of the events are fictitious. Hollywood needed to make a statement, and didn’t seem to be concerned about truth. Thus, when they made statements at the end lamenting the loss of the primitive savage and rain forest, they give numbers that any credible thinker would question. The filmography of the movie was okay, but not great. It is clear that the film crew had three or four locations at most. But, what about the movie? Why would it get such a low rating from me? This movie would be best thought of as a merger of Al Gore in Inconvenient Truth and Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon, with a story line written by Margaret Mead. The script writer had tried to develop the innocent savage theme of Margaret Mead, perhaps not realizing that most of what Margaret Mead wrote about her adventures to the South Pacific were a total fiction, and should have been condemned to the genre of the Harlequin Romances rather than credible science. Unfortunately, Mead was devoured by the non-critical ideologues of academia and was sold as an argument against civilization and for the peace-loving, amoral primitive man, not driven by money, greed or passions. This movie makes light of the alternate belief structure of the primitive Amazonian. They are able to call on the frogs to make rain, without explanation as to how they might have the power to do this.This leads to a beautiful non-sequitor, in which we should not destroy rain forest because if we were sensitive to “Mother Earth”, we could pray to frogs who would help us destroy the advance of modern technology. The movie leaves out that these primitives live in constant fear of the spirit world, which is an ugly taskmaster, and not the benevolent loving God of the Judeo-Christian faith. A favorite scene of the movie was the swimming hole, where the naked young Amazonian men would meet the equally naked young Amazonian women. It was a mixture of the opening scenes from Margaret Mead’s “Coming of Age in Samoa” and various scenes from the Blue Lagoon–entirely fictitious and entirely wishful for free-love without bounds or constraints or defined morality. If only the scriptwriters could actually live in one of these communities for a while to see that the female always takes a seriously subservient mode to the man. But, academic fictions contribute to even more fictions, and the most gullible among us, the Academics, sell this trash to us without any thought as to its truth content.

The movie poorly asks the question as to which culture or civilization is best. Is it the primitive native of the rainforest, or is it the so-called civilized man? The referential framework for making this judgement in the movie is the question of who treats the earth the best, and clearly, the primitive native wins out. But, that is not really a fair question, since it is not the primitive native making this assertion, but rather, it is the civilized man using the technology and knowledge that is despised to fight technology and “knowledge”. It suggests that there is a primitive knowledge that is lost (note the very last statement of the movie!), but the movie makes clear that what is lost is a “knowledge” of the spirit world, a world that most modern man choses to believe does not exist, but those that are of a Christian heritage would ascribe to the demonic world whose torments are best to be delivered from.

Regarding the concern that anthropologists have to preserve primitive cultures, that is a total hypocrisy, since they wish to have access to these cultures, but nobody else. After all, if a primitive culture exists that you don’t know exists, it doesn’t matter whether or not they exist. Yet, the obsession with preserving primitive culture as a reference point for where modern culture has gone wrong fails. Margaret Mead used several isolated cultures in Samoa and New Guineas to build an argument for feminism and sexual liberation, an argument that is specious at best by denying what we see in man every day as a depraved person. We build utopian or mythical worlds to escape what we see is evil in our own culture, yet fail to grasp that we are chasing nothing but a fantastical creation of our mind devoid of reality.

In conclusion, the movie is inconsistent and ambiguous enough to make any decisions regarding either cultural judgments or environmental concerns. The movie offers no greater reference point for making any further judgements, either regarding morality or culture. Thus, one must turn elsewhere for these decisions. It is no wonder that The Emerald Forest has not had a lasting impact, and no wonder that the environmental movement and anthropology comes across as a touch insincere.

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Apr 14

Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures: Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity, by Stephen Ressler (Teaching Company) ★★★★

This is a fascinating tour of structures mostly built within the last 100-200 years throughout the world, with an orientation around first bridges, and then buildings. Ressler is a civil engineer, and so the orientation of the course was entirely around the design and mechanical features of bridges and buildings that have allowed for their great length or height. It is a most fascinating story of design failures, learning curves, and serendipitous success.  Ressler is reasonably non-technical, though I wish he would have included at least one lecture on the real mathematics of design–not all of us are science dummies. Ressler has an interesting style of teaching, but most effective. His personality struck both Betsy and myself as a cross between a close friend R.B. and Mr. Know-it-All Bullwinkle Moose. Both Betsy and I enjoyed this lecture set tremendously both because of the topic and the teacher, and recommend it to our friends.

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Apr 13

Schubert: The Complete Songs, with Graham Johnson ★★★★★

This is a fairly lengthy work of 40 CDs representing the complete songs of Franz Schubert. The common aspect of the Hyperion production is the pianist, Graham Johnson. The vocalists are a broad assortment, many quite well known names, but all being superb in their delivery. The recordings are also completely top-notch. The length makes this a little challenging to listen to all at once, and this is my second time straight through. The brilliance of Schubert as a song writer is reflected strongly in this production. The song cycles, especially Schwanengesang, are superlative. The entire cost of this set is a royal bargain, worth any classical collection.

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Apr 13

Zemlinsky: Complete Choral Works and Orchestral Songs, conducted by James Conlon with the Kölner Philharmoniker ★★★★

Zemlinksy was an Viennese contemporary with Mahler, Strauss, and Schoenberg, and acquainted with all of those. Being mixed Jewish, Muslim and Catholic, he eventually emigrated to NY City in 1938. Unfortunately, his life was always spent in the shadow of his better known contemporaries. His music resembles a merger of Mahler and Strauss. The EMI performance here is apparently a reissue, as EMI seems to be the only record company that has produced Zemlinsky’s works in depth. He is a worthy composer and most of his works do not deserve the obscurity that they have received. This album will definitely be enjoyed by those who enjoy choral works from the turn of the 20th century Viennese genre.

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